Waay back in 1997, when the original Parasite Eve was released, we were introduced to the concept of Neo Mitochondria, rogue organisms with the charming habit of invading human hosts and turning them into icky homicidal mutants. Our unfeasibly blonde and leggy heroine, Aya Brea was an NYPD cop who helped wipeout the cause of the epidemic, but as is so often the case in the world of video games, things aren't that simple. So having left the NYPD, Aya is now part of a top-secret (aren't they all?) agency called MIST, which apparently isn't the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, but the Mitochondria Investigation and Supression Team, which sounds a bit like a Government QUANGO. With me so far? Good. Anyway, the little beasties have started rampaging round LA, which is where we come in.
The game starts in a high rise block in a plush part of the city. A monster has been sighted making its way up to the top floor. 20 SWAT team members have been sent after it, but have not returned. So What's the next move? Send in the army? The Marines? Nah, let's send in a lone female agent armed with nothing but a bayonet. Yeah, she's that good. So good in fact, that while the rest of us are donning full body armour and bullet proof vests, she's charging around in a clingy vest and hotpants, clearly relishing her secondary role as every 14 year old boy's wet dream.
The gameplay evolves in classic Resident Evil style, as the hilariously inappropriately dressed Aya travels through prerendered backdrops, solving the odd puzzle and shooting anything that gets in her way. One aspect in which the game really excels is the presentation, which is superb for a game of its day, with lush backgrounds and dynamic, flickering lighting. The in game animation is smooth and even the protagonists don't suffer from the characteristic PS1 blockiness. Where the game falls down is the lack of vocal soundtrack. Conversations are in sub-titles only, meaning a lot of exaggerated arm waving animation to convey the characters' feelings, giving you the strange feeling you're watching a bunch of deaf-mutes doing vaudeville.
Another downer is the arbitrary nature of the puzzles. There is no provision in the game for picking up an object that looks as if it might be useful later, or guessing a solution to a puzzle without picking up all the clues. The relevant bit of scenery only becomes 'live' once Aya herself gets the idea resulting in endless to-ing and fro-ing. For example, I came across a door that needed a wrench to open it. I remembered seeing a wrench in a garage a couple of scenes back. I went to get the aforementioned wrench only to find out that I couldn't pick it up, I had to back-track about nine scenes to ask the garage owner's permission to use the wrench, before going all the way back to the beginning to use the damned thing.
The controls also frustrate, although this is symptomatic of the PS1's lack of analogue stick than the game itself. Running AND turning a corner at the same time is nigh on impossible, and in confined spaces you will find yourself having to stop, pirouette 90 degrees and then carry on. Sadly, none of the in-game monsters seem to suffer from this lack of mobility, and the whole sorry mess is exacerbated by the fact that Aya moves about as fast as an elephant driving a combine harvester. She also takes a painfully long time to reload her weapon, usually resulting in a thorough mauling before she has time to squeeze the next round off.
The inventory/ level up system is second only only to Resident Evil Outbreak in terms of its stupidity. After every battle, Aya receives EXP points, and Battle Points which enable her to upgrade her weapons. The EXP points only allow the upgrading of Aya's magic, not her Hit Points, so her Health remains at about 100HP throughout the game despite the massive hike in enemy difficulty. Certain pieces of armour can add HP to her total but these tend to be expensive and the sparse scattering of items around the locale means you'll be spending most of your battle points on ammo anyway.
In battle, the only items you are allowed to use are the 4 that you 'attach' to your weapon before hand. This introduces a whole element of frantic, demented guesswork into the game. What weapon or ammunition will I need for the next scene out of the 50 squillion odd available? The game is unforgiving if you make a mistake and it's utterly excruciating to play for half an hour between save points, only to get wiped out in one fell swoop because 40 rounds of buckshot wasn't up to the job.
Several NPCs feature in the game, but in the absence of any character development they're usually reduced to uttering the odd moronic comment that adds nothing to the experience whatsoever. You defeat a seven foot tall monster in a dramatic showdown on the top of a high rise building and all your boss has to say is "That's nice- keep investigating"
This game is a mine of missed opportunities. With its eye for detail, gruesomely imaginative monsters and the odd original touch it could have been something special. Instead with its hate inducing gameplay it's just floating around the 'also rans' league. A real shame.